Jon Zehner: Many interesting discussions

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Jon-Zehner-JLL-96Friday was another interesting day with perspectives on many issues of importance.

We saw a powerful speech from U. S. Secretary of State John Kerry on the importance of everyone coming together to forcefully combat terrorism, starting with ISIS (consistently called DASH at Davos). He used World War II as an example of the focus and determination that the world would likely require to succeed over time.

We listened to a couple of discussions amongst Middle Eastern leaders about the situation in Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen with a focus on Iraq and Syria. In addition, Prime Minister Al Abadi of Iraq spoke in a separate session. The interesting facts (?) that I learned were that the allies bombing ISIS in Syria are the U. S. and other Middle Eastern states (Saudi Arabia, Jordan, UAE, Qatar were mentioned) while the allies bombing ISIS in Iraq are the U. S. and a number of western countries (UK, France, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia were mentioned). Not surprisingly, this leads to coordination challenges. It seems that Iraq is not sharing intelligence with anyone other than the U. S. and the UK, which clearly rankled with Saudi Arabia, particularly because there is clearly coordination with Iran. Overall, while there were disparate views as to the medium term prospects for the region, with some being very optimistic with the youth of the region, the uninhibited communication with modern technology and the positive moves to democracy in Tunisia and Morocco (to be fair this was not a view held by all). The consensus was that long-term solutions to the issues would require political inclusion and economic development to provide jobs to the large unemployed or underemployed sections of young people in the Middle East. Employment opportunities came up frequently in conversations throughout the last few days. It is important to add that Middle Eastern leaders unanimously derided any ISIS claims to their efforts being made in the name of Islam. They are simply terrorists or worse.

Joined a dinner on Africa which was marked by the look of shock on the face of my wife when President Keita of Mali was seated directly across the table from her. President Keita made a very articulate and heart felt plea for assistance in combatting terrorists armed with Libyan weapons and he did so in English which is not his native language (French is his native language). In addition, there was much discussion of the huge economic growth currently being enjoyed by many African countries and likely to be part of the landscape for some time given the demographic profile of Africa.

Coming back to the employment point, one leading investment manager made the point that he thought that technology was driving the polarisation of the labour markets and also driving the countries which would be the future winners and losers.

With research colleagues who have been recommending a focus on cities, not just countries, as the drivers of real estate growth for many years, it was rewarding to hear some private equity managers making the same point and their perspective was not real estate driven.

In a discussion on the future of Europe, the panel was clear that the time was now for fiscal and labour market reform as monetary policy is not able to drive medium- to long-term growth on its own, and we are at the point where monetary policy is diminishing in its impact (less so in Europe, one hopes, than in the UK or the U.S.). The audience voted, with only two dissidents, for the UK to stay in the European Union. Chancellor Osborne of the UK was quick to point out that the UK’s decision on this point was not to be made in Davos.

My building/places them for this blog is Seoul, South Korea. This is partially because I attended a lovely Korean night on Thursday night. Also, Korea is an example of a country which has succeeded in part because of its embrace of technology and has succeeded from the ashes of a brutal war. The energy of Seoul is an example for many cities and countries to emulate.